Stuck in a moment

Shortly after dis­cov­er­ing the won­der­ful Work Stew site, I read an essay by Tasha Hueb­ner that com­pletely wowed me. It was funny and smart and brave, as well as beau­ti­fully writ­ten, and at the time I remem­ber think­ing: “I’d like to know that girl.”

Flash for­ward another six months or so. Last week I saw that Tasha was among the win­ners of Work Stew’s essay con­test. No sur­prise there. Read­ing her new piece, I had the same reac­tion I did to the first, but this time, I acted on it. I sent her a Face­book mes­sage say­ing how much I admired her work and intro­duc­ing myself. What fol­lowed was a rapid-fire exchange, rang­ing from movies (Melan­cho­lia, The Pianist) to thoughts about resilience (Is it or not the same as adapt­abil­ity? My kind of question.) 

The con­nec­tion was yet another reminder of why I love blog­ging – because of the peo­ple it brings into my life and how it expands my hori­zons. In this spirit, I also love to share my favorite dis­cov­er­ies. I asked Tasha if she’d con­sider let­ting me post her orig­i­nal Work Stew piece here. Hap­pily for all of us, her answer was “absolutely.”  

Tasha Hueb­ner

by Tasha Hueb­ner

Damn, I was arrogant.

Hmph,” I smirked, even with a bit of an eye roll thrown in for good mea­sure. “I’ll never be one of those peo­ple try­ing to sell more corn­flakes, or—god forbid—figuring out what color hats the Kee­bler Elves should wear. I’m going to do some­thing a lit­tle more impor­tant than that.”

So, with Whar­ton MBA in hand, I set out to con­quer the world, self-styled Mas­ter of the Uni­verse that I was. And what kind of impor­tant things am I doing now? Let’s see. Today I was out at my gar­den plot fuss­ing over the tomato plants, because I’m hop­ing that later in the sum­mer I’ll have enough to sell and make at least a few hun­dred dol­lars. Had lunch with my mom, which she paid for. Sent an email to a per­son I write blog arti­cles for on var­i­ous top­ics, for a miserly amount of money, telling her that sure, I’d be happy to write arti­cles for a strip­per recruit­ing blog—why the hell not?

Strip­per articles.

When you grad­u­ate from busi­ness school, you are led to believe that strik­ing out on your own—because you’re so damn bril­liant and all—is a great idea, just won­der­ful. You may not expect to hit it big, as in hawking-schlock-sold-expensively-on-QVC-big, but you do feel con­fi­dent that you’ll at least get by.

But then some­thing like, say, The Can­cer comes knock­ing at your door. No, for­get knocking—the rude bas­tard comes bar­rel­ing in guns a’blazing, tak­ing no pris­on­ers, leav­ing you shell-shocked and stunned, because seri­ously, WTF is this? You have no fam­ily his­tory of can­cer, you’ve always been healthy to a fault, you’re train­ing for your sec­ond IRONMAN, for chris­sake, so really, WTH? Then if you have the really shitty luck, like some of us (ahem), a month later you’ll still be train­ing for said Iron­man, and will get into a bad bike crash going down­hill at 40 mph that will leave you with a severely bro­ken col­lar­bone, bleed­ing on the brain, no mem­ory of the crash or the three days in the hos­pi­tal, and oh yeah, that pesky can­cer that still needs to be taken care of.

And mean­while, back at the ranch, because you’re sin­gle and self-employed, you have no income any­more because you’re in a cancer-treatment and brain-injury fog, and while you do have health insur­ance (whew!), you dis­cover that insur­ance com­pa­nies are evil bas­tards who MSU (=Make Shit Up) in order to get out of pay­ing your bills. So you come home one day, exhausted in your 6th week of daily radi­a­tion treat­ment, and burst into tears when you get yet another bill from Blue­Cross­BlueShield say­ing that they’re not going to pay $5K of your surgery because there was “an extra nurse in the room.”

Even I don’t have the cre­ative cojones to make this stuff up.

And at the same time that your life is being totally derailed by The Can­cer, you have peo­ple help­fully telling you about all the lessons you should be learn­ing from this “jour­ney.” Life is short! Seize the day! Live every day as if it were your last!

First of all, if I lived every day as if it were my last, well, let’s just say that there’s a level of rapa­cious bonbon-eating there that even I don’t care to con­tem­plate. Sec­ond, and more impor­tantly, I would love to “seize the day” and do all the things I’ve ever dreamed of. Visit Mon­go­lia! White water raft­ing again in Costa Rica! Vis­it­ing my Can­cer­Chick friends, the group of women who live across the U.S. that I’ve come to know and love as we together deal with the shit­can that is can­cer at a young age!

There’s one prob­lem with this, and for­give me for stat­ing the obvi­ous here, but: this costs money. I know, shock­ing! But true. And to a per­son, my Can­cer­Chicks and I, we’re po.’ The mar­ried ones have a bit more lee­way, but if you’re sin­gle? For­get it. Sin­gle and self-employed? Dou­bly for­get it. Do we want to work? Hell yes. I’d like to be able to pay my bills with­out con­tem­plat­ing how much I could get if I gave blood on a reg­u­lar basis. Yet for some rea­son, in spite of my Whar­ton MBA, my fan-fucking-tastic resume (every­one tells me this) (though okay, I admit I’ve para­phrased slightly), the fact that I’m really good at what I do (shame­less plug: mar­ket­ing, communications/writing), I have yet to find work, even project work.

So while I’d like to report that as some­one with The Can­cer who real­izes full well the impor­tance of embrac­ing all that life has to offer, that I’m doing so every sin­gle day—the truth is that I can’t quite fig­ure out how to spend every day in some whirl­wind of fan­dango fun and excite­ment, because real­ity kind of gets in the way. Those pesky bills. The minu­tiae that make it hard for me to move boldly for­ward into my post-Cancer life. This is true for every­one I know who has this dis­ease that’s deter­mined to kill us.

The other bit of advice that peo­ple like to share with you, whether you have The Can­cer or not, is this: do what you love to do—the money will follow.

This, my friends, is a bold bit of com­plete and utter horseshit.

Me, what I love to do is write. I have a blog that’s sweep­ing the nation (You’ll laugh! Cry! Rally to laugh again!), that I make absolutely no money from. (Note to IRS: no money what­so­ever.) I’ve been work­ing on a book, but in the mean­time I need to be able to pay my bills, so the book often has to go by the way­side. Such is life. Work­ing as a strat­egy con­sul­tant post-Wharton, that brought in a decent amount of money. The writ­ing, the acer­bic wit, the pan­der­ing to the eigh­teens of blog read­ers who hang onto my every word? Not so much.

So what are our key take­aways here? I think they’d be along these lines:

  1. Don’t get The Can­cer. If it offers to latch onto your life, just say hey, no thanks, I’m kinda busy now
  2. But if you do, make sure you’re part of a two-income house­hold, or inde­pen­dently wealthy, because…
  3. (to para­phrase George Bailey)…money comes in pretty handy down here, bub.
  4. If you’re the quin­tes­sen­tial Schleprock like I am, don’t fol­low your dreams. Stick with the well-paying cor­po­rate gig; do what you love to do in your spare time. Trust me on this.
  5. Real­ize that if you have the afore­men­tioned crap luck, it makes for some fan­tas­tic writ­ing on the blog. Hey, lemons, lemon­ade, mar­gar­i­tas, go with it.
  6. And if you look at the shell cas­ings sur­round­ing the destruc­tion of your for­merly orderly and log­i­cal life and are com­pletely baf­fled as to how you wound up here, it’s impor­tant to real­ize that it’s not all bad, that there are always patches of sun­shine hid­den among the shadows.

And if I at times sound a bit bit­ter, well, that’s only par­tially true. I’m not bit­ter about The Can­cer, because quite frankly, shit hap­pens. Not bit­ter about the bike crash/brain injury, because that ele­vated things to an almost sub­lime level of absur­dity that holds up well in the retelling.

What I AM bit­ter about—or per­haps dumb­founded is a bet­ter word—is the fact that I have a Whar­ton MBA, for god’s sake, yet am will­ing to write strip­per sto­ries for a tiny bit of cash, as I lay awake at night won­der­ing how I’ll pay my bills. Whar­ton! MBA! Amaz­ing resume and expe­ri­ence! Bril­liance all in one neat lit­tle pack­age! The mind reels.

I’m bit­ter that tomor­row when I go for my 6-month checkup with my oncol­o­gist, the one whose mantra is “no scans with­out symp­toms,” I’m not going to try to con­vince her that I should be scanned at least once. Because if they do find a recur­rence or advance­ment, I can’t afford to treat it. “Thanks, doc, but I’ll pass on more of The Can­cer today—it’s just not in my bud­get right now.”

I’m bit­ter about the fact that I’m being audited by the IRS, because the brain trust over there flagged my returns when I had a sud­den drop in income and, oh, huge med­ical bills! Lawsy me, what ever could be the connection?

I’m slightly bit­ter about the fact that The Can­cer will be back at some point, because the stats for young women with stage II breast can­cer basi­cally suck. I wish I could be earn­ing money so that I could in fact be doing the carpe diem-ing I’d like to do in what­ever time I have left. But I can’t.

I’m very bit­ter about the fact that my fel­low Can­cer­Chicks, who I love dearly and would do any­thing for, are all deal­ing with this same shit. And the bit­ter­ness becomes black indeed when I think about the lie per­pet­u­ated on us all: that breast can­cer is so cur­able, which is total hog­wash, espe­cially for young women. Hell, it’s barely treat­able, based on the fact that seven or eight of my friends in just the last week have either found out that they’re now stage 4, or have taken a turn for the worse because their treat­ments are no longer working.

Cur­able, my ass.

And yet, in spite of the fact that my life is a total sham­bles, I have amaz­ing women in my life because of The Can­cer, and I wouldn’t give up those friend­ships for any­thing in the world. Not for all the tea in China, not all the pots of gold in existence.

So to sum up: Money = good. Jobs = good. Can­cer = bad. If you mea­sure suc­cess by the amount of money one has accrued, then clearly I’m the least suc­cess­ful per­son from my grad­u­at­ing class at Whar­ton. A wash-up. A failure.

If you mea­sure it in friendship—I’m the rich­est woman in the world.

Note: This piece first appeared on Work Stew, and I’m grate­ful to Kate Gace Wal­ton for her will­ing­ness to share it. 

© 2012, amy gut­man. All rights reserved.

7 thoughts on “Stuck in a moment

  1. Since I have been in Spain, I have been struck by how dif­fer­ent it is to have a national health care plan. Peo­ple don’t go broke because they are sick. Home­less peo­ple have health care so they are in much bet­ter phys­i­cal and emo­tional health than home­less in the US. This was a really touch­ing and funny piece, my favorite kind.
    Molly@Postcards from a Peace­ful Divorce recently posted…Trav­el­ing as a Sin­gle MomMy Profile

  2. Wow. Thank you for writ­ing the truth. Thank you for expos­ing the myth of the Ivy league MBA for the painful myth it is. I have “fired” my Har­vard MBA from my life recently. I had believed in its vague promises of “the easy life.” That lie — sal­va­tion through an Ivy league MBA — gives us shame when the real­ity isn’t even close to the “mag­i­cal think­ing water” we drink. I’m get­ting my Flan­nery O’Connor MBA now: sal­va­tion through pain & lament: rejec­tion, betrayal, silence, aban­don­ment. (I also had a breast can­cer scare this past week, and did not have to walk down that path — I am so sorry that this dis­ease has come to your life.)

    I today went out and bought two pairs of cheap glasses. One is Lon­don FOG read­ing glasses. They would really give me a headache if I wore them. On these glasses I taped the nar­ra­tive of the prison of the past and put them by my com­puter screen. The other glasses were a brand “Big Bud­dha.” And on those glasses I taped things like “The X fac­tor. I am enough. I am rich in friends. I seek the clar­ity of this moment.” These are lenses that do not make me ache when I wear them and help me see things clearly and I look cool wear­ing them. I put them by my desk. I am going to keep them there for a week and when despair comes roar­ing in, I’m going to make a choice: which glasses am I going to look at this prob­lem through? What am I com­mit­ted to becom­ing? And by doing that enough, I hope to rehab — not kill the lie of the Ivy league MBA, but let it go and rehab myself into believ­ing that “I am enough.”

    I also have a won­der­ful voca­tion I am flour­ish­ing in — but does it pay the bills? Not yet. Maybe never. And that’s my chal­lenge too.

    Bless­ings on your jour­ney. You are chang­ing the world. Just not like you may have thought you would as a Whar­ton MBA. What if you threw away your cal­cu­la­tor some­where dra­matic — like in the Schuykill river in a dra­matic purg­ing cer­e­mony. The present you needs dif­fer­ent stuff.
    Alle­gra Jor­dan recently posted…A 750 year-old decision-making checklistMy Profile

  3. Tasha’s sense of humor is wickedly funny. If you’re not already one of her eigh­teens of read­ers, you should be. In fact, go do it now. I’ll wait.

  4. After you men­tioned Work Stew in an ear­lier blog post, I decided to check it out. I read sev­eral of the essays, includ­ing Tasha’s. I too was struck by Tasha’s can­dor and clear writ­ing. I 100 per­cent agree with your assessment.

    Do I see a Gutman-Huebner col­lab­o­ra­tion some­where off in the distance?

  5. WOWZERS, thanx Amy for the post of this woman’s blog, the under­lin­ing com­men­tary on our nations health were apparent.

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